A photo showing children holding pirate flags.

During the summer of 2006, the Bateman Library of Langley Air Force Base was overrun by pirates. Why a pirate theme? Because I’d wanted to do a pirate summer reading program for years and, quite frankly, I pulled rank on my staff. I’d played pirates as a kid; the picnic table was my ship and the benches were the planks. I must have looked quite ridiculous climbing and jumping around in my mom’s high heels and dresses shouting “Arrr!” and wielding a sword (stick), but I loved it. That love of playing pirate never died, and I relived the fantasy by choosing the Captain Book & the Bookaneers (Upstart) theme for our summer reading program.

It was pure serendipity that our theme coincided with the release of Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man’s Chest . As a result, there were many pirate toys, books, and paraphernalia available for us to decorate the library and provide prizes for enterprising readers. I’m afraid I drove the staff crazy with all of the goofy pirate jokes I found: “Why couldn’t the teen get into the movie? It was rated Arrr .”

Planning the Program

Several of us put our heads together to decide how to conduct the program. Because we have a small staff with too many projects, we needed something fairly self-directed. During early planning meetings, we discussed the lessons learned from previous summer programs. We’d held Saturday and Wednesday night program meetings for the 2005 program and had poor attendance. The amount of staff time spent planning and conducting each program day was too much for the number of attendees. We determined to reduce the number of program meetings and increase the visual impact of the theme with displays and decorations.

Library entrance: “Abandon ignorance, all ye who enter here!”

Bateman Library’s adult pirate book display.

The poster went for fifteen doubloons.

We reduced the number of meetings to three, plus a final pirate bash to close out the program. During the first meeting, aspiring pirates made their own treasure chests out of shoe boxes; during the second, they made their own pirate flags. The skull with blue eye shadow and red lipstick was not quite as threatening as Blackbeard’s, but it had panache. The third program was a treasure hunt in the library. The treasure (pirate information) hunt required research on subscription databases, in pirate books, and on the web.

Reading Incentives

Many summer reading programs give children incentives to read. Sometimes it feels like we just reward children who come to the circulation desk and look like they know what a book is. We wanted to do something different. What resulted was unlike anything we’d ever done before. The concept was to have incentives, but make the little pirates “buy” them with money earned from time spent reading. With donations, corporate sponsorship, and our programming funds, we purchased plastic coins (doubloons) and a ton of booty. We made reading log sheets with rows of skull and crossbones flags; each flag represented fifteen minutes of reading. Four flags (crossed out or colored) equaled one hour; each hour of reading earned a doubloon. When children came into the library, we checked their reading logs (titles), marked out their flags (hours), and paid them their doubloons. The display case full of booty was positioned prominently at the front of the library. Every item was tagged with a price — a sword was ten doubloons, gold earrings were seven doubloons, a Captain Jack Sparrow action figure was twenty-five doubloons, etc. Our twofold reward program was fascinating to watch in action — some children spent their doubloons in true pirate fashion (as soon as they got them), while others saved for larger and more expensive prizes. Love of reading paired with fiscal responsibility seemed to delight most parents as they watched their children make purchasing decisions. There were a few surprises as well. One older sibling willingly shared his doubloons and purchased a sword for his little brother (he also read to his brother regularly). One young lady pirate purchased a pair of real earrings for her mother. Staff members cleaned out their old costume jewelry and donated to the treasure chest.

A photo showing a pirate skeleton holding two books. The banner above it says 'Captain Books & the Bookaneers - Summer Reading Program'

Cross-Promotion and Publicity

We kicked off our program earlier than in previous years by promoting the Hampton Blackbeard Festival, held during the first weekend in June, with posters from the event’s planning committee. This was a great way to get military families involved in the community and start the buzz about all things piratical. In early June, the Mariners’ Museum opened a great pirate exhibit, Swashbuckler: the Romance of the Pirate , to coincide with the opening of Pirates of the Caribbean 2 . It seemed that everywhere you looked, you saw pirate things — pirate ships in Virginia Beach and Lynnhaven Inlet, Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf in Williamsburg, even M&M’s (both the candies and their website had a pirate theme in accord with the movie).

Decorating the library was fun; several staff members got into the spirit of the event when we hung the Johnny Depp/Captain Jack Sparrow poster (inspirational, I guess). Two people had trunks that we used as treasure chests — one for an adult pirate book display and the other to display pirate treasure and store the doubloons. Microsoft Publisher and Google Images were useful for creating banners. We even burned the edges of the paper to get the right look. Everyone saw the banner that was placed on the floor in the library lobby (cold laminate protected and held it down). Some décor was also an activity. We filled a wine bottle with the pirate-colored M&M’s (both plain and peanut) and set it on the circulation desk as a guessing game for adults. A small cardboard treasure chest was used to collect the guesses. The closest guess without going over won the candy-filled bottle. Staff wore blinking skull and crossbones pins and skull and bones necklaces. We purchased three templates from Sherwood Creations, Inc., a company that specializes in patterns for plywood cutouts. The library has huge windows, so we used the patterns and black craft paint to paint the pirate ship and two pirates as silhouettes on the entrance and front windows. Skeletal pirates came from Oriental Trading; posters from K-Mart; and other décor from Big Lots, the Dollar Tree, the Hampton History museum gift shop (during the Blackbeard Festival), and various websites.

One young lady pirate
purchased a pair of
real earrings for
her mother.

Cooperative Programs

The library falls under the 1st Services Squadron, which includes divisions such as dining, fitness, child and youth care, bowling, golf, arts and crafts, the community center, and outdoor recreation. The Marketing Department wanted to have more joint programs, so I asked everyone from these activities to attend a meeting to plan a pirate summer. Unfortunately, not everyone was as enthusiastic about pirates as I was, but I tried to coerce them anyway. The result was, as expected, a lot of work for the library staff members — maybe I wore them down with corny pirate jokes: “Why did the pirate go on vacation? He needed some Arrr & Arrr .”

Battle o’ the Seas

The members of the 1st Services Squadron came together for several joint programs:

  • Bowling. Every Sunday from June to August, family bowling was encouraged with pirate booty to reward strikes. Several of the snack bar items were renamed (Capt. Book’s Fish & Chips). The Langley Bowling Center staff was the most enthusiastic of our base partners. They decorated with palm trees, parrots, and pirate paraphernalia and proudly displayed our program posters.

  • Youth Centers. On June 21, Barbara Wright from the Mariners’ Museum presented two pirate programs. A member of the museum’s Education Department, Barbara is a wonderful speaker and presenter. She dressed like a pirate and told the children what life as a pirate was really like. Her PowerPoint slideshow and realia made it a fascinating event.

  • Outdoor Recreation and Community Center. On August 4, the Youth Center held pirate cardboard boat races. Groups created pirate ships and then sailed or paddled them across the pool before they sank. Participants got prizes like the Titanic Award.

  • Library and Marketing Department. In June and July, the 1st Services website and the Bateman Library held two coloring contests, offering pirate pictures for the purpose. Entries were displayed in the library. Booty, such as a 3-D pirate ship coloring kit, went to the best specimens. All participants received two doubloons.

  • Langley 1st Services Treasure Map. Readers collected stamps and were entered in a drawing to win prizes. The best idea to get base activities to participate was to have something that required very little effort for non-library staff members. I created a treasure map (base map) that marked participating activities with an “x.” We purchased rubber stamps and colorful ink pads and provided them to each participating activity. Stamps from stampin. com and Cornish Heritage Farms included a pirate, ship, treasure chest, anchor, “x,” and even a shark. The bowling alley chose the “x” for strikes and the shark for their snack bar. Readers were given a map with instructions to go to each location to collect a pirate stamp; those with the most stamps had their names entered in a drawing for two tickets to Pirate Expeditions in Virginia Beach. Pirate Expeditions kindly donated the tickets.

  • Library, Outdoor Recreation, and Volunteers. Together, we offered pirate games, a pirate feast, and a water battle.

She dressed like a pirate
and told the children
what life as a pirate
was really like.

The Final Program: Pirate Cove

A photo showing a brother holding his little sister. They are taking a portrait with a pirate skeleton and a treasure box.

Our final activity was the end of program party. I put out a call for volunteers in the base newspaper and found several kindred spirits. Outdoor Recreation reserved two picnic shelters and a large part of Eagle Park for us. We had the volunteers sign up for each part of Pirate Cove and for special events; each had different duties and areas of responsibility. Each volunteer and staff member received a colorful skull and crossbones bandanna as identification.

The shops open throughout the Pirate Cove event included:

  • Tattoo Parlor. Temporary pirate tattoos and pirate face paint designs were applied to budding pirates. Mustaches were quite popular.

  • Milliner’s Shoppe. Pirates made newspaper hats.

  • Pirate Library. A treasure chest full of donated books was available for pirates to plunder. Bookmarks and stickers were available too.

  • Blacksmith. A pirate volunteer fashioned balloon swords for pirates; swordplay ensued.

  • Portrait Painter. We staged a pirate skeleton and chest for photo opportunities.

  • Ye Olde Game Place. Pirates played Pin the Patch on the Pirate and the Skull & Crossbones Bean Bag Toss (both remnants from my tenth birthday party — thanks Mom!). The prizes were paper eye patches.

  • The Tavern. Volunteers grilled hot dogs, which were served with buns, fresh fruit, and Goldfish® Crackers. We served a Treasure Island cake decorated by the local Farm-Fresh.

One of the pirate booty displays. The price tags indicate the cost in doubloons.

Events interspersed throughout the program included:

  • Peg Leg Race. Volunteers roped off and conducted a three-legged race. Little pirates’ legs were tied with bandannas. Peg legs received bead necklaces for prizes.

  • Buried Treasure. Volunteers buried doubloons in the volleyball sand court. We banded everyone together and set them loose all at once to find the treasure. Little pirates used plastic drinking cups to hold their loot.

  • Water Battle. The grand finale was a water battle. Two volunteer pirate captains cut pirate ship shapes from 4' x 8' pieces of cardboard prior to the event. Other volunteers filled water balloons. The captains recruited teams and faced off to do battle for dominance of the high seas. Water balloons flew back and forth, soaking pirates and ships alike. Water pistols shot victims with reckless abandon. Suddenly, with brilliant strategy, the female pirate captain bellowed to her crew and they lifted their ship, rammed it into the other ship, and captured their rival captain. The battle was over, and so was our pirate summer reading program.

Pirates were relentless —
why not librarians?

The End?

Was it successful? One mother told us that her son never read before this program; because he liked pirates, he was now reading. I’d say that was a mark of success. We had other parents tell us that their children enjoyed the program and were excited about reading more. We feel that we had a very successful program and had a great time as well, decorating and creating the program partly from scratch. Nobody on the staff wants to hear another pirate joke, though. (“How much did the pirate pay for pierced ears? A buccaneer.”)

Pirates were relentless — why not librarians? This year we’re following the statewide program focusing on Jamestown’s 400th Anniversary. We’re in the planning stages right now, deciding how to handle colonial-themed events.

Wasn’t Captain Christopher Newport a pirate?

With many thanks to the pirate crew: Vickie, Cheryl, Raquel, Angela, Lorraine, Brenda, Rebecca, Jim, and the volunteers. VL

Leslie Smail is the library director for the Bateman Library at Langley Air Force Base , located between Poquoson and Hampton. Her early pirate days were spent in Newport News. She has been managing military libraries for most of her career, but has also worked in public and academic libraries. She may be reached at 1svs.svmg@langley.af.mil or Bateman Library, 42 Ash Ave., Langley AFB, VA 23665, (757) 764-2906.